29 Mar Supreme court ruling raises the bar for FAPE, but where do students stand today?

March 29, 2017

Last week, in notably the most significant special education case to hit the Supreme Court in decades, the decision was made to set a stricter standard for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandate that students with disabilities be provided a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Specifically, the ruling states that public schools must provide students with disabilities “a level of instruction reasonably calculated to permit advancement through the general curriculum.”  The ruling presents a major win for families and advocates pushing for greater academic rigor and expectations for students with disabilities.

But where do students with disabilities stand today and how prepared are they for post-secondary opportunities? A report out this week attempts to answer that question and suggests that schools face many challenges in raising the bar for students with disabilities.

Published by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, the report explores the experiences of students with disabilities, providing a snapshot of the backgrounds of secondary school youth and their functional abilities, activities in school and with friends, academic supports received from schools and parents, and preparation for life after high school.  The report presents findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012, which collected data on a nationally representative set of nearly 13,000 students— mostly those with an individualized education program (IEP) and expected to receive special education services.

The following are key findings from Volume 1 of the report, which compares the experiences of students with disabilities to those of youth without an IEP:

  • Youth with an IEP are more likely than their peers to be socioeconomically disadvantaged and to face problems with health, communication, and completing typical tasks independently.
  • The vast majority of youth with and without an IEP feel positive about school, but those with an IEP experience bullying and are suspended at higher rates, and are less engaged in school and social activities.
  • Youth with an IEP are more likely than youth without an IEP to struggle academically, yet less likely to receive some forms of school-based support.
  • Youth with an IEP lag their peers in planning and taking steps to obtain postsecondary education and jobs.
  • Youth with a 504 plan face fewer functional, social, and educational challenges than do youth with an IEP, but more than other youth without an IEP.


Volume 2
of the report compares the experiences of students with disabilities across disability groups. Key findings include:

  • Five groups—youth with autism, deaf-blindness, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, and orthopedic impairments—appear to be at higher risk than all youth with an IEP for challenges making successful transitions from high school.
  • Youth with intellectual disability and emotional disturbance are the most socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and the most likely to attend lower-performing schools.
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